PIC: Baljit Singh in action against Ireland in the World League Semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium. Malaysia won 4-2.
BALJIT Singh son of Charun Singh is the last Sikh left standing in the Malaysian Speedy Tigers, and it could take another decade to groom a replacement.
Sikhs used to dominate hockey in Malaysia, but are now as rare as a white rhino, and Baljit is the lone Lion carrying on this proud tradition in the ongoing World League Semifinals in Antwerp, Belgium.
Malaysia played two matches in Belgium and beat China 3-2 and Ireland 4-2 to qualify for the quarter-finals and are just a match away from qualifying for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
And if the ticket to Rio is clinched, Baljit’s achievement would be another feather in the turban of a long line of Malaysian Sikhs who have experienced hockey at the highest level.
But it was not easy for Baljit to reach the level he is in today. In fact, after helping Malaysia qualify for the World Cup, Baljit was dropped from the World Cup squad which played at the Hague, Netherlands, last year.
It was the most bitter part of his hockey career as his new coach K. Dharmaraj felt that Baljit was not good enough for the World Cup and replaced him with a German-Malaysian — Kevin Lim. Kevin Lim pulled a muscle two days before the World Cup started in a warm-up match at the Hague, and did not get a chance to represent Malaysia in the World Cup either.
This was just months after the previous coach Paul Revington only had praises for Baljit, who played the best hockey of his career to help Malaysia qualify for the World Cup.
But Baljit never gave up. He fought back into the team.
“It was really the most disappointing moment of my career,” he says, when reflecting on the how he had help Malaysia qualify for the World Cup and then not being selected to play in the in the tournament itself.
“But I kept improving my game by training hard, and claimed back my defenders position. Now, I will give everything I have to help Malaysia qualify for the Olympics.”
Baljit was brought back into the squad when the coaching musical chair stopped at its third song and Tai Beng Hai replaced K. Dharmaraj as coach.
Beng Hai’s believe in Baljit was justified when the lone Sikh played his best game yet, to defend Malaysia’s goalmouth against China and Ireland. Belgium and Britain are Malaysia’s next opponents, but Malaysia have already qualified for the quarter-finals with two matches in hand.
When asked where he got the strength to carry on after he was dropped from the World Cup squad, he gave a short rely: “Rab rakha.” [‘God the Protector’ or ‘God protects’].
Rab rakha on your Olympic dream, Baljit.